For many years as a kid, I recognised the soundtrack heralding the news on national television. There was a time Nigeria only had a national broadcast television station with state branches. Growing up, we waited till 4pm to open on the TV box and turn it off hours later when it goes off leaving behind a whistling sound.
There was no internet and no knowledge of the Global Systems for Mobile Communications anywhere on this side of the Savannah. Indigenous soaps kept viewers glued to their TVs. It was that okay until we knew better.
Nigeria Television Authority, Nigeria’s national broadcaster, is the government’s station by funding and direction/influence.
At least, I enjoyed some interesting television drama series – The Village Headmaster, Tales by Moonlight, Samanja (from where my beloved dad nicknamed me), The New Masquerade Checkmate and Things Fall Apart.
My siblings and I almost didn’t miss these programmes for anything.
By the early 1990s, television licences were already being issued to private entities. On the west side, there was Daar Communications Limited and many others. That killed the monopolistic position of the NTA.
Many of the substations of NTA across the states of the federation are now shadows of their old selves, with no attraction inside and outside.
Some months into Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999, when the country was, for the first time, granted the right to host one of Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s age-grade football competitions, the Federal Government provided funding for the procurement of 10 Outside Broadcast Vans.
The OB vans were, after the games, handed over to the NTA for use and custody. One would have thought that the vans would be deployed to good use, but stories that have made the rounds in the past and now don’t redress our maintenance and management culture as a people.
Almost when you think Nigerians have forgotten, the devil reared its ugly head again via a broadcast of Nigeria’s senior national team, the Super Eagles, against a not-so-rated Benin Republic. Poor camera angles, less scintillating commentary.
Football fans slammed the national broadcaster for everything that went wrong during the game. For hours #ShameOnNTA trended, Nigerians vented over what many described as a national disgrace. One tweeter handle, @tweetmankind, gave a damning verdict: “Watching the Super Eagles game doesn’t make me feel like this is 2019; it’s looking like sometime in 1999.” And @dkuti82 wrote, “They just exposed themselves to the world and other continents through the shameful live broadcasts between Nigeria and Benin. No wonder they could not show ordinary NPFL.”
The anger is not of the poor coverage, but that in this new age where smartphones can give good coverage, better outputs are expected from a national station, moreso with the huge funding from government.
Pan to 2009 when the country was to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup, just 10 years after the OB vans were procured, the Federal Government under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had sunk N8.2bn into upgrading the external broadcast equipment. The fund was for Sony Corporation of Japan and United Kingdom-based Well Trade Services to collaborate in upgrading just six OB vans to High Definition format that would see them produce and distribute world-class live television signals.
Meanwhile, a report had it that the vans had been upgraded in 2003 from Standard Definition to HD during the All Africa Games organised by Committee for the Organisation of the African Games in Abuja.
Just a little over 20 years after the vans were purchased, none of the NTA channels, local or international, can favourably compete with most privately-owned TV stations in the country.
While some private broadcasters have reinvented, rejigged and repositioned themselves to take advantage of the dynamism of their targets, NTA has since remained unchanged. Same old poor pictures that could wreck an eye.
In the fashion of wanting to compete with international brands when local competitions are a disruptive pain, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, came out to reveal that NTA would be needing a whopping $500m to reposition for competition with the Cable News Network.
The loan, if approved, may join the long list of funds sunk into NTA without appreciable return. A tale of too much investment without anything to show for it.
The OB vans that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration funded for the Nigeria ’99 FIFA World Cup have almost all been grounded.
How do you continue to provide hard cash, one that is hard to come by, even by borrowing, for a cause that would most likely not see the light of day?
The claims that the NTA has adequate manpower in place can only be imagined.
There is no problem with borrowing, but the issue is the purpose. Mohammed explained at the Senate hearing for the loan request, “There will be more visibility for a people in the music, fashion and film industries.”
But looking back, the statement was not different from talks with no plans for implementation. NTA, after swallowing the fund, may not improve any inch locally, let alone internationally.